Public Education Forum 2020

Public Education Forum

Saturday, December 14, 2019 • 9:00am ET
David L. Lawrence Convention Center • Pittsburgh, PA • Streaming Online

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The Schott Foundation and eleven other public education groups, including community groups, education unions, and civil rights organizations, hosted top Democratic presidential candidates at the “Public Education Forum 2020: Equity and Justice for All” on Saturday, Dec. 14, at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh. MSNBC moderated and livestreamed the forum focused on public education issues.

Seven major Democratic candidates participated: Sen. Michael Bennet, Vice President Joe Biden, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Topics included school investment, student services, special education, student debt and teaching conditions, as well as key education equity and justice issues facing America’s students and public schools.

Sen. Michael Bennet
Former Vice President Joe Biden
Former Mayor Pete Buttigieg
Sen. Amy Klobuchar
Sen. Bernie Sanders
Tom Steyer
Sen. Elizabeth Warren

The forum welcomed more than 1,000 educators, students, parents and community members to a discussion with the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates about their plans for K-12 and higher education. Each candidate provided opening remarks and answered questions from moderators, forum attendees and others from across the country who submitted questions.

Setting the Stage

At the start of the day, speakers rallied the audience and reminded us all what we're fighting for. Opening speakers included:

The opening panel laid the groundwork of what advocates were looking to hear from the candidates. The discussion featured AFT President Randi Weingarten, NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, NAACP President Derrick Johnson, and Journey for Justice Alliance National Director Jitu Brown.

Opening Speakers
Opening Panel Discussion

Highlights from the opening events:

Schott Foundation President & CEO John H. Jackson spoke of the need to move from a democracy to a "justocracy."
National Director of the Journey for Justice Alliance Jitu Brown spoke about the nationwide grassroots fight against school privatization and the need for a positive vision of public education.
One PA's Western PA Organizing Director Angel Gober spoke about the victories and challenges in Pittsburgh and introduced newly-elected Philadelphia City Councilor Kendra Brooks.
National Co-Director of the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS) Keron Blair outlined a broad agenda for police-free, safe, supported, creative and community-centered schools for all.

Key Questions

Grassroots advocates were pivotal in the behind-the-scenes organizing behind the event, but they also spent time in front of the camera at the forum, asking important questions of the candidates.

Paulette Foster asked Former Vice President Joe Biden about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a law that has been underfunded since its passing.
6th grader Saleema Sabree asked Tom Steyer why her school couldn't afford to hire important support staff and educators, but a neighboring school could — a question that goes to the heart of an inequitable public school funding system.
Middle school student Kareem Henderson describes the inadequacies of traditional school discipline policies, and asks how Senator Klobuchar would encourage school districts to adopt restorative practices.
Educator and organizer Denisha Jones asked Joe Biden about the use of standardized tests in public schools, describing how they narrow curriculum and distort the learning process.
Shimekia Nichols of the Detroit Life Organization and Journey for Justice Alliance asked Tom Steyer about the need for more Black teachers in public school classrooms.
Davonte Johnson of Detroit Action for a New Economy asked Sen. Bernie Sanders about his commitment to ending the school-to-prison pipeline and devoting funds to education, not incarceration.
Parent organizer Irene Robinson of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization and the Journey for Justice Alliance asked Sen. Michael Bennet about school closures and privatization.

Irene Robinson is also one of the parents who went on an extended — and successful — hunger strike to save their neighborhood public school in Chicago from being closed by then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Parent organizer Tanesha Grant's question to Sen. Michael Bennet raises the importance of education funding, sustainable community schools, and culturally-responsive curriculum. Grant is a member of the Coalition for Educational Justice and the Alliance for Quality Education.
Organizer Maria Harmon described the desperate state of the all-charter New Orleans school district, and asks Senator Michael Bennet how charter schools should be held accountable. Harmon is co-director of Step Up Louisiana, which is part of the Journey for Justice Alliance.

Watch the full forum

Forum sponsors include:

Per MSNBC's agreement, all presidential candidates who either previously qualified for the October debate or currently hold statewide office were invited to attend.